Tuesday, 28 August 2012

I'm talkin' about (before) the revolution

According to the word on the street, there is a revolution afoot. Aided by social media sites, guerrila tactics (yarn bombing) and organised metropolitan gatherings, the twenty-first century knitting revolution continues advancing to the rhythm of clicking sticks winding through fancy new cashmere/alpaca/bamboo/kitten blended yarn. The Guardian foretold the rise of the knitter nearly a decade ago whilst other newspapers are picking up the point as the trend begins to enter the mainstream.

As more and more people take up sticks and wool, we thought we would cast our minds back to a time before knitting podcasts and quirky yet extremely popular instruction books for making a woolly Royal family. We have selected a few items from MoDA's collection that show other sides of knitting, before it became a contemporary fashionable phenomena.

Knitting for All Illustrated: practical knitted garments for all the family: making, renovating and repairing, Margaret Murray & Jane Foster, Odhams Press Limited, 1941 (BADDA3267, Museum of Domestic Design & Architecture)

During the First and Second World Wars, knitting was a practical expression of support from the Home Front for troops abroad. Consider this poster from the Imperial War Museum -‘Our Jungle Fighters Want Socks - Please Knit Now’, or this photograph of a family gathered at a hearth whilst the mother ‘Jill knits a scarf for her solider uncle.’ Wool companies released books for those wishing to contribute socks and balcalavas to the war effort.

Knitted Comforts for Our Sailors, Soldiers & Airmen in "Greenock" Service Wools, published by Fleming, Reid and Co. Ltd., Scotland for Scotch Wool & Hosiery Stores, 1945. (BADDA4134, MoDA)

During the past century, knitting was as much about domestic economy as recreation. Here is an example of a 1960s book of family knitting patterns by Keynote, offering a cost-effective means of kitting out mum, dad and the kids. Note the little boy in blue: a decade later and the style of wrapping every inch of your baby in homemade knits continued, as illustrated by the 1975 Sunbeam pattern for a Cosy Pram Set.

Knitting for the Family, Keynote, ca.1960 and Cosy Pram Set knitting pattern, Sunbeam, 1975 (BADDA4816 and BADDA4808, MoDA)

Last winter the fashion magazine Elle clocked the rise of ‘the statement sweater’and Grazia noted a growing obsession with novelty jumpers sparking bespoke knit sites such as Where's Me Jumper. MoDA certainly have a lot of sweater patterns which would fall into this category (such as this fine example of a Space Invaders sweater), but they were by no means the cutting edge of fashion in their day. It was garments like this from Woolworth’s Knitting Magazine which stood out: ‘A Poncho-skirt – the newest idea from America – for the Groovy.’

'Mexican double', Woolworth's Knitting Magazine, page 3, Woolworth's PLC, 1970 (BADDA3515, MoDA)

Whilst there is a growing community of male knitters online, generally speaking knitting has been a consistently female dominated art and industry. Books, magazines and patterns in MoDA’s collection reflect this point. In ‘The Art of Needlecraft’, RK and MIR Polkinghorne describe knitting as ‘a delightful occupation for spare time and for long winter evenings... It is said that those who can knit or crochet are never lonely or discontented, and perhaps this is true.’ I would hazard a guess that this statement is as true for Polkinghorne's audience of 1935 as the male and female knitting revolutionaries of 2012.

You can browse other homecraft items in MoDA's collection here.


  1. I've wanted to join the knitting 'revolution' but think I'm not coordinated enough. Thanks for the inspiration!

  2. Wishing you all the best with starting knitting Rhonda! As a beginner myself, I think there are some great online communities which can be really encouraging (not to mention loads of you tube instructional videos).

  3. I have a copy of the pattern book for 'Knitted Comforts for our Sailors, Soldiers and Airmen' using Greenock Service wools as featured above. Do you know what wool would be the equivalent today. I am particularly interested in making the Patchwork blanket on page 12. Any help would be appreciated, thank you Hilary Stephens